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Sunday 4 December 2016

Smartest shoppers will be bagging all of their bargains online

Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30

Lauren Carvill and Catherine Hughes, from Warrenpoint in County Down, on Grafton Street Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Lauren Carvill and Catherine Hughes, from Warrenpoint in County Down, on Grafton Street Photo: Kyran O'Brien

It's the time when millions of people around the world hop on to the internet and start shopping like it was going out of business.

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Websites crash, online retailers baulk and postmen wither at the thought of all those deliveries.

Shoppers walk past Black Friday signs on Grafton Street, Dublin Photo: Mark Condren
Shoppers walk past Black Friday signs on Grafton Street, Dublin Photo: Mark Condren

Here are my tips for bagging that bargain and making sure shopping online is safe and pleasurable.

Are there really bargains buying online from the UK?

Yep. Last November, the UK currency was 1.43 against the euro. Yesterday, it was 1.17 and has traded as low as 1.09. Given the uncertainty of the Brexit ramifications, it's not set to improve any time soon.

Donald Trump's election victory caused it to rally a little but it may not last.

What should I look out for?

Well the first thing is to shop on websites that allow you to pay in sterling. There's usually a drop-down menu of flags at the top to check this. If you pay in euro, the retailer may add in a 'bump' for themselves, just in case the currency fluctuates between buying and shipping.

What items are cheaper?

Clothes, footwear, electronics, cars, books. Anything really, as long as you take into account the conversion price, compare it to what is available here, and factor in shipping or insurance, which many sites charge to Irish buyers.

Is it unpatriotic?

Yes. No doubt about it. You should, where possible, buy Irish, of course. But don't forget that a huge amount of products you think are Irish are not. In addition, look at the price tags on items which show sterling and euro prices. You'll find that even though the UK currency collapsed five months ago, prices may have not reduced.

What happens if a website won't ship to Ireland?

This is unfortunately common, or shipping prices are too high for it to be worthwhile. However, there are workarounds. AddressPal (www.addresspal.ie) from An Post sets up a unique 'UK address' for you in Antrim and ships the item to your local post office.

Parcel Motel (parcelmotel.com) does the same, by shipping the item to one of its depots for €3.95. Both charge extra if the item is heavy or large. Be sure to set up your shipping account before you shop online.

I'm nervous about shopping online in case the item isn't what I wanted.

Consumer rights in this area are very strong. The EU recognises that 'arm's length' trading means you, the shopper, don't get the opportunity to feel, touch or see the item before buying, so the law allows you to change your mind and return the goods within 14 days to any EU country. The UK, for the moment, still qualifies.

What about online shopping outside the EU?

Tread carefully. Apart from issues of consumer law, there are additional customs duties that apply, along with full VAT, from ex-EU countries. An Post must collect this at point of delivery, so it can be very expensive. Buying from places like China has a separate and eye-watering 'countervailing' charge on some items.

I really only want to stock up on booze.

Well, going to Northern Ireland is a bargain, if you can bear the drive and the queues. Alcohol is one of the most heavily taxed products in the Republic. Added to the currency division, you could do very well.

I think I'd prefer a holiday.

Good idea! UK trips are great value now. Hotels, restaurants, tickets to shows and sights will all be much cheaper than you've been used to, so book in advance, in case the rate changes.

Irish Independent

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